A visitor to Omniglot is curious to know what the writing on the piece below means. Can you help?

Medallion with mystery writing on it

The writing on the right hand image appears to be in the Arabic alphabet, but that’s all I can make out.

Apologies for the lack of blog – it was something to do with the database which I’ve fixed now.

This entry was posted in Language, Writing.

49 Responses to Puzzle

  1. TJ says:

    I think it is a seal.
    The image on the left is what usually called “Taghrá’” طغراء, a commonly used form of signature during the ottoman era. Such calligraphic “entities” were so complicated in design and needed professionals to make them out back then, in order to limit and/or stop trials to mimic them and cheat.

    The image on the right is hard to read but I did make some letters out I guess like ط and ض and ق. That also brings to mind that Arabs, for some time and before the development of special numerical system, used letters to represent numbers, and if this piece is really, really, old; it might be this is the case. Though I don’t think so because of the Taghrá mentioned earlier.

  2. TJ says:

    Got it, partially now.
    The image on the right states:
    ضرب في [Dhoriba fee] (minted in)

    Then some name of a city that I can’t read. But if there is any word that comes to mind when I see the shapes of the letters that way, I would say it would be قسطنطينية [Qostanteeniyyah] (Constantinople). Could it be an abbreviation of the city’s name? Maybe!

  3. Douglas says:

    TJ My wife found this in an area that was a port city which dates back into the 1600′s. We found it in the water on the beach. This beach has a history of stuff washing on shore with the tides. Although it is no longer a port city in its history hundreds of ships have been wrecked and sunk in its bay. If it would help the piece is paper thin, which astonished me because it had been stamped on both sides. Also the piece is about 5/8 of an inch or roughly 13 centimeters.

  4. TJ says:

    @Douglas : where is this city?

  5. Douglas says:

    Sorry about that TJ, I wrote you in a rush this morning. Its not a city more like a small town.
    It is the town of Lewes, in the county of Sussex, in the State of Delaware in the U.S.A.
    It is no longer a port city but a tourist attraction, small town, known for its quiet laid back beaches.
    It sits at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. Barges go through this area every day, on their way to Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Stuff is always getting churned up in the mix.
    I did some looking on the Sultan’s of the Ottoman and I saw the different Symbols that were used as their mark. Although I couldn’t find that particular one, I saw enough to understand that was what it is. I think I need to do some studying on the Arabic writing styles. Since it seems I have been trying to match to literally the writings. One of the notes I ran across was during one period they merged the different Arabic styles trying to make a single uniform language. If I read that right.
    I do Thank You very much for your time on this. I now have a new perspective on Language.

  6. Qcumber says:

    Let’s try TJ’s hypothesis that the Arabic letters here are used for their numerical values as before the Indian digits entered common usage among Muslims.

    There are lot of dots so it is hard to see which ones are decorative, and which ones belong to the letters. Thus in the right picture, I can see from top to bottom and from right to left with their numerical values in square brackets:
    1) a decorative squiggle or a sort shadda that indicates gemination [no numerical value unless it means the value of the letter below should be doubled]
    2) a Saad [90] or a Daad [800] (isolated form)
    3) a final 3ain (70]
    4) 3ain initial [70] / Gain initial [1000] + Taa’ medial [9] / Dhaa’ medial [900] + Taa’ final [9] / Dhaa’ [900] final.
    If I take the values 1000 + 900 + 9, I get the year 1909 AD.
    If it is a Muslim medallion, I doubt they would give a date in our calendar. Therefore my result must be wrong.

  7. Qcumber says:

    TJ, Darab fii “stricken > minted in” is ingenious, but I can’t see the B, and there is no separation between the Daad and the raa’. What I see is either ض or ضر

  8. Douglas says:

    Out of curiosity have you ever looked at hammered Arabic coins? Also is there any meaning for the 22 dots that the circle is made of?

  9. TJ says:

    @Douglas : thanks for the info. It’s weird to see such piece arrive there! seems someone lost it or something?

    @ Qcumber: I’m an Arab.

  10. Douglas says:

    That is a good question. I love figuring out puzzles, and this one has gotten a hold of me. Which is why if I can put a date to it maybe then history will unfold. In those days gone by a lot of battles and ships being overrun and captured. In trade or theft. That is about the only way I can see it making its way here. Or a tourist dropping it out of his pocket.

  11. TJ says:

    I would go most probably with the second guess, as Ottomans didn’t have a fleet reaching to the shores of the US, but mostly a fleet that was involved in battling Europeans as far as I remember, in their golden age.

    The image on the left is definitely a Taghrá’ (Tughra).

    you can compare the shapes from the wikipedia page here.

  12. Qcumber says:

    Douglas, no I have never had the opportunity to see a hammered Arabic coin.

  13. Qcumber says:

    JT where is the baa’ of Drb? I can’t see it.

  14. Qcumber says:

    Sorry Douglas, I have no idea what the 22 decoratives dots mean. At the bottom, two have a sort of plume, and a 3rd one seems to expand into the 3ain Taa’ Taa’ “word”.

  15. Qcumber says:

    Now that I think of it, on a 19th-century globe with toponyms written in Ottoman (Turkish in Arabic characters), I have seen something similar to what looks like a final Daad on the medallion above. This letter, that seems to be an abbreviation, recurs before the names of some islands and archipelagoes. I have a pic, but I don’t know how to show it here.

  16. Douglas says:

    QCumber I posted to Simon Ager on his email he then posted the picture.
    I communicated with an artist who draws Taghra along with other writings and I asked for his slant on what it might be.
    There is some what of a language barrier. I am working through his broken English answer. I appreciated his efforts. I wrote to him because I noticed his web site mentioned some variations on language that Omnigolt did not mention, or maybe I should say I didn’t notice.
    He believes it is written in an old form of Arabic. He thinks he recognizes some words and he thinks that there is a date written in old Arabic, he mentioned a few words which I am researching now.

  17. TJ says:

    Please refer to coinage and mintage of the Ottoman era. Google has plenty of them shown. Some of them, like this, can be stamps and not coins, but still bear the word “Dhoriba”, i.e. minted (in).
    So, even at the Ottoman times, even though the language of the state was Turkish generally, but Arabic was also in the main stream, either in the Turkish language itself (which persists until this very day) or in, naturally, Arabic speaking countries under the Ottoman rule back then. Thus, terms like “Dhoriba fi” which is Arabic, was common in a Turkish era.

  18. TJ says:

    Again, I made a simple picture here with traces…


    The green and blue dots might be interchangeable. The blue word is hard to read but the form seems like the one for Constantinople.

    I think I will keep the image in my photobucket for some time and then remove it. Just telling in case Simon wants to download it and post it here.

  19. Douglas says:

    Thank you TJ I was getting ready to do a similar thing myself with the photo. The piece is so thin that the stamping from the other side can be seen. Did you notice that there are also 4 small dots in the picture. One to the upper right side of the dot on the “Minted ” word (which I’ve also have been told means “Made”) a second and third one appears on the end of the second word “In” and lower part right at the bend. The last one is on the right side of a word that no one knows at the bend. Don’t know if there is a significance to these smaller dots or not.

  20. YankeeTranslator says:

    I wonder if the place name is Fustat فسطاط, the city founded by the Arab conquerors of Egypt which would later be incorporated into the Fatimid-founded Cairo. the letters seem to have فطط with perhaps a س at the bottom. But this is stretching it a bit.

  21. Qcumber says:

    JT did not answer my question concerning the letter B of the first word. So I’ll continue alone.
    If we accept the first word means “minted”, then it is not Doriba, but Darb ضرب “minted” with the B ب written above, and I took this B ب for some shadda ّّ because of the small alif ا inside.
    As regards fii في “in”, I can see the I /i:/ going from left to right as in the old style, but I am still puzzled by the shape of the F ف that rather looks like an 3ain ع.
    Whatever, all this is very interesting.

  22. Douglas says:

    Qcumber Thank you for your input. About the small alif inside, I understood making the jump to B but didn’t understand the part in the middle.
    In case no one else has noticed I don’t understand the placement of letters in the Arabic language. Although I am learning as we go.
    So if I am to understand you right the old style was read Left to Right? Because I thought that only numbers were read Left to Right.

  23. Douglas says:

    Yankee Translator:
    Feel free to stretch a bit. A person I talked to had wondered if that symbol might have meant ( fitat or fithath) which he also had said was a word that meant nothing to him.

  24. YankeeTranslator says:

    Here’s another idea: maybe the first word isn’t ضرب but صاغ (saagh) as in غرش صاغ ghirsh saagh, standard piaster, or عملة صاغ ‘umla saagh, standard currency?

    I’m going to have a meeting with an Arabic expert in two days, so I’ll try to remember to ask him.

  25. Douglas says:

    I was wondering if it could be a Tax stamp, like a dog license, a proof that you paid taxes on a farm animal or something to that extent.

  26. Douglas says:

    The reason I had asked you about the hammered coins is this. If you look at the second image like a clock from the 9 o’clock to the 1 o’clock position you will see a slight roll to the metal which just means that the top and bottom dies were not perfectly lined up when they were stamped. In other words stamped by hand not machine (probably). Just for dating purposes helps to place it in a time frame.

  27. TJ says:

    Sorry for not replying soon.

    Qcumber: according to the Arabic grammar, you can’t say “Dharb” then “fii”, but you have to say “Dhoriba” then “fii” (passive form). This is the way mintage was recognized. If I would want to use the word “dharb” which is a noun by the way, I have to use the name of the city after that directly without the word “fii”.
    The shape of “F” in “fii” is misshaped because of the punch as you can see in the image. For this reason it looks more like the letter “Ayn” ع.
    In the beginning, I thought this small stroke inside the “B” is Dhamma (short “O” vowel) but then I’ve changed my mind because it doesn’t make sense in Arabic, specially followed by “fii” (i.e. IN). As for a shadda, it did indeed look like that in the beginning, but that leaves us with a dot under that letter and the whole thing won’t make a sense at all. Then the appropriate fix for this is simply, this word must be “Dhoriba”: passive form of “to mint” – minted.
    We have to have in mind that the piece is old and the engravings are smudged, thus this little stroke inside the “B” might have been disconnected before (and for my suggestion it was definitely so).As for the letter “B” I’ve made the picture in my last post to illustrate the letter better.
    You can google more about Ottoman coinage and mintage to see that the usual form is “Dhoriba” as well. On Omniglot in the puzzles page that was active before, there are some solved puzzles of this sort.

    Yankee here can be close with his suggestion about Fustat, but as far as I know, this name was not in use at the Ottoman era and the city was already called CAiro (Al-Qaahirah) by then. Constantinpole though was renamed Istanbul (or Asitanah) already in the Ottoman times, but I think I’ve heard of a Constantinople in Bulgaria, which was under the Ottoman rule in their golden times.
    As for the suggestion of Saagh or Qirsh [صاغ - قرش], I think is far away from the general aspects of this piece.

    @Douglas: I’m not sure about the mintage processes used back then, but most probably, even if it was done by a machine, the machine most probably would have been run manually, thus precision is not an issue. Trust me, even in modern times I still get coins that we use daily that have some off-shot mintage little bit. As for the little alif inside the “B”, such ornaments in Arabic calligraphy are common, specially in the Thuluth style. Google some pictures about Arabic calligraphy and you can see how complicated it is and how many symbols are there in use. Lot of these symbols do not have a specific meaning to the pronunciation in fact (but some can be of meaning when you see them in the Quran, to adjust breath, stops… etc).

    The two things left now is the name of the city where it was minted, and the owner of the Tughra. The fact that the Tughra is reversed makes it ideal for stamping. I’m not sure about the practices back then, but who knows, maybe Yankee is right about the animal thing or ownership.
    Anyway, I might be mistaken about the reversing of the Tughra here, but I do see that the orientation of the shape is not what usually is to be. Simple comparison to other Tughras tells that the 3 strokes at 5 or 6 o’clock are usually long Alif’s and they (usually) stretch upward. Anyway, there could be styles in this too.

  28. Lau says:

    The stuff at the bottom on the right one looks like numbers to me. Maybe ١٢٢ (122).

  29. Douglas says:

    The animal thing was also brought up by an artist I had written to who draws Calligraphy. He was a former Iraqi who live in Belgium I believe.
    I know there are so many styles in the Arabic language, I’ve listened to different sites explain pronunciation using and holding the breath to stop as you have mentioned. Do you know how often the alif would touch the letter it affects. The center definitely touches
    I have high resolution photos of the “F” or the letter “Ayn” in my opinion it stops just before the punch hole.
    Not to confuse things anymore then they already are the punch hole looks like it might have been through an”alif”
    Which brings me again to; do I read this Right to Left or Left to Right.
    I will gladly send anyone who wants them the higher resolution pictures. I don’t know if this site has a way of doing it with out exposing ones email address or not, if not I have a junk email account that I don’t use and I will post it and when I get anyone s email I will send them the higher res pictures. Just let me know.

  30. Douglas says:

    Yes it looks like 122 to me also but not sure about the 1 since it touches the letter above it and the 22 do not.

  31. TJ says:

    @Lau: yes, I can see it clearly now, it is 122, and if this is a year, then it must be in A.H. But, this is really so old dating (before Ottoman time), thus I don’t think it is a date, but some value of some other significance.

    @Douglas: the punched letter is definetely “F” [ف]. Arabic is read right to left (and on the coin of course, top to bottom). Notice above the punched hole there is a slight curve or some remains of a circle, which was once the dot of the “F”. As I said before, the piece is old and that causes smudges to occur in the metal, and this deformed the edges of the “F” after the punch causing the once-was-circle letter to appear like a bracket, i.e. the letter Ayn [ع]. Besides, it doesn’t make any since if it’s Ayn.

    The shape of the word “Fii” (in) here is calligraphic form. The picture I provided in the link has the regular way we write “Fii”, but on the piece, it is calligraphic form and a common practice to write “fii” in that shape.

    The small stroke or small alif, when used in Quran it denotes a lengthening of the vowel (some writers of Quran use it above the letter for long A, and below the letter for long E, but mostly writers use different symbols for the two). In Arabic orthography, despite the fact that long vowels are written with letters, and short vowels are written with small marks on (or below) the letter – there are however some words and for some reason I don’t know myself, that we are pronounced with long vowels without the presence of the letter representing it. It is in such cases, sometimes and in calligraphical sense, this short alif is used to note there is a long “A” sound on that specific letter. Words with such attitude, for example, are:
    هذا : háthá (this), with “TH” as in THis.
    لكن: Lákin (but).

    However, this stroke on the coin (on “B”) does not make any sense linguistically, and most probably it is for ornamenting the word that’s all.

  32. VinnyD says:

    I can’t help with reading it, but the hole punched through it suggests to me that it was strung on a necklace (or other jewelry) or sewn onto a piece of clothing at one time. That’s probably the form in which it came into a tourist’s possession.

  33. Qcumber says:

    TJ thanks a lot for the explanation concerning the sort of word possible before fii. I had the impression you meant it was the passive participle Dariiba(t) that is used here, but this is impossible because there is neither a long ii nor a Taah marbuuTa(t). I am quite puzzled. I don’t see what word you actually mean.
    BTW, in my dictionary (Kazimirski 1860), I have found dirham Darb درهم ضرب “drachma stamped” translated as “argent monnayé” (fiduciary silver).

  34. Qcumber says:

    Another problem is the 3ain-like letters that TJ interprets as Fs. They are not like Fs at all, particularly the one that is not near the hole.
    Quite exciting.

  35. Qcumber says:

    It’s not a coin. It could be a talisman.

  36. YankeeTranslator says:

    Another not-entirely-likely explanation: The bottom word could be Qutuz قطظ, the Mamluke sultan who checked the Mongol advance on the Muslim world in 1260. There are two problems with this explanation though: the sultan’s name seems to usually be spelled قطز, although the two spellings might be both correct; 2) tughra I believe was inaugurated by the Ottomans, who came a century after Qutuz.

  37. Douglas says:

    I found a paper on words that had been upgraded to new words and words that there was no word for in the Arabic language. Really wish I had bookmarked it. It was many pages long and explained a couple of different ways this would come about. But basically what you are saying could be correct. I just wish I could find a running example of the differences in the symbols being used. As they worked there way toward modern Arabic.

  38. Douglas says:

    For what it is worth I found a similar really thin coin on this site http://www.joelscoins.com/mideast.htm which has a silver coin from the Ottoman era that is so thin you see the stamping from the other side. It looks like it has over 40 dots going around it and where my coin (for lack of what ever it is) has a hole drilled in it . This other coin looks like it has a symbol that is kind of square (which would have been a good place to drill a hole.)
    Take a look at it. If you don’t mind.

  39. TJ says:

    I guess I have to say it all over again…

    Dhoriba fii (minted in) – then a city name. This is mintage sentence.
    The last name cannot be a person’s name, hence it’s not Qutuz.

    The “F” is punched, that’s why it looks like “3ain” (or Ayn). In case you’re wondering, there is a little curve, the remains of a circle, above the punched hole. This is the remains of the F dot.

    I’m an Arab and I can read this like a daily newspaper, except of the last word which is smudged so much.
    To elaborate my point further, please check:

    In this page, the mintage sentence reads as:
    ?azza naSroh (glorified his victory)
    Dhoriba fi (minted in)
    Qustanteeniyyah (Constantinople).

    Notice the “fii” on this coin. Having Ayn there doesn’t make sense at all. عی has no meaning in Arabic.
    The name of the city, Constantinople, has some similarities with the piece we have here, but I can’t say it is Constantinople. Maybe it is a short form of the name here.

    Yes, the punch suggest it was hung or sewn, and there is a great chance it was used as a stamp.

  40. Douglas says:

    Ok I found something of interest on a coin site.
    They had Fake Coins of the Ottoman era http://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=71951
    In the “b” symbol would be how many years the Sultan was in power.
    They said the fake coins had unrealistic years in them.
    If this is true the “alif” would be a One in the top symbol. No?

  41. TJ says:

    @Douglas: if so, then this is what it might be called the Regnal year, or something similar, not sure about my spelling here.
    If the stroke here in this piece is “1″ and not “alif” then it might be, in comparison to your link, meaning regnal year 1 (of the Sultan), I believe. Otherwise, it is mere calligraphy.

  42. Douglas says:

    Gentlemen for what it is worth; I believe it has been fun trying to figure out what this is. Also weather it is something fake or something real. Either way again I didn’t find it on the floor of a supermarket but in the ocean which in and of itself was quite unique.
    I am not Arab but a mix of Polish, Scottish, and a few others I am sure American. I have another question about what this could be. Since it has been put to me by a few people; although as far as I know none of them are of Arab decent.
    Given the hole what has come to my mind from the start is the same thing that VinnyD mentioned above.
    Could or would this have been something that was sewn on a wedding dress or other piece of clothing.
    If it had Polish writing on it I might be able to find out from relatives. But the writing is Arabic.

  43. TJ says:

    Well, as I said in other posts, and as Vinny said, yes, this could be sewn or hung as a necklace of some sort. If you check the Puzzles page on Omniglot (which is now inactive) in the archive of solved puzzles, you will find something similar with a punched hole.
    The fact that this piece has NO assigned numerical value (the 122 at the bottom is not particularly a money value but a year), means it is not a coin and not used as so. The most probable use for such thing is to be a stamp, specially that the left image with the Tughra signature, seems like reversed or in inverse, even though it is highly smudged and hard to judge.

    The Tughra is a form of signature in the Ottoman era and used by authorities as I believe. Imagine writing a Tughra each time you want to sign an official paper? Likely, you will be making a stamp with a complex signature like this one and use it instead of writing a unique signature as this every time you like to sign something!

    The thing is, the puzzle is solved already. The only thing is to know the mintage place (highly likely, it might be Constantinople) and the year written down there.

    In Ottoman era (and frequently still) the calendar and dating system in use is the Higrae (A.H.: Anno Higrae) or commonly known now as the Islamic calendar. If I can suggest that there is a smudged number after the “122″ at the bottom, then we can bracket and limit our guessed to a span of 9 years: 1220-1229 A.H.
    Using calendar converters (http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/calendar/), we can say that these 9 years correspond to the time period between: April 1st, 1805 A.D. to December 11th, 1814 A.D.. See now how can you use such information for your research!

  44. Qcumber says:

    Douglas, I suppose you mean item # EG121
    Yes, there are lots of similarities.
    The first word is Duriba “was stricken > minted” [the passive voice of Drb in the completed aspect]
    Then I can see 3mr > 3amr “life” / 3umr “life” / 3umr “40 years old” / 3umar “a man’s forename” [Could be Omar Pasha (1806-1871), an Ottoman general]
    The 2rd line has sanat “year”
    The last line is a date: 1287 H (Arabic is written from right to left, but numbers given in the digits borrowed from India are written as in Sanskrit, i.e. from left to right)
    = 1870 AD
    I wish I could do the same with our puzzling coin. :)

  45. Qcumber says:

    I mean the 3rd / third line has sana(t) “year”

  46. TJ says:

    @Qcumber: sorry but the translation provided here is completely not coherent. There is no “3amr” (or 3umr). Beside, I don’t remember anywhere in the world the names of generals are usually stricken on coins instead of the ultimate ruler or sultan. Also, we have Tughra in item EG121, thus, why would the name be mentioned on the coin?

    The translation of item EG121 is:


    The image on the right is for the Tughra of course. The year of 1287 AH corresponds to the year 1870-71, which is not correct because if you read the description, the description of item EG121 states it dates back to the 1700s not 1800s.

    I’m really wondering what is left here for this coin or stamp we have here? Didn’t I give out all translations? what is left or what is mysterious about it now?

  47. Qcumber says:

    TJ thanks a lot for your interpretation of EG-121
    You wrote: “The year of 1287 AH corresponds to the year 1870-71, which is not correct because if you read the description, the description of item EG121 states it dates back to the 1700s not 1800s.”
    If the date on this coin is 1287 HE = 1870-1 CE, then the description that accompanies EG-121 is wrong.

  48. Qcumber says:

    This coin, and the others in the same style taught me that in the Ottoman style, the emphatics S and T link up with the following letter the same way the emphatics D and Z do.

  49. TJ says:

    Pardon, the description for item EG121 is correct, and the year on the coin is 1187 AH, not 1287 AH. There is a nudge beside “1″ that makes it appear as “2″, but with little bit of concentration you can see it is “1″. Beside, I doubt the website has the description wrong, simply because it seems a professional website, and the name of the ruler is identified as well.